Wednesday, September 29, 2010


We celebrate many events through the year. Some are personal, some are cultural or religious, and some are national. Quite a few, I suspect, have their origins in the celebration of the natural world, and involve spiritual connections that we’ve mostly forgotten.

Driving through the countryside two days ago, I realized how happy I felt seeing the golden cornfields being harvested, the green soybeans turning yellow and rust on top, the warm sun shining in a deep blue sky with a cool breeze filled with the scent of crispness. Everything looked, smelled, and sounded as if the season, and the year, had reached its fullness of life.

As I helped Jim bag the Native American multi-colored corn called Smoke Signals, I celebrated how good it felt to be alive in a world of such variety and beauty. The crop wasn’t as large as anticipated because more deer survived last year’s mild winter, but I rejoiced in getting my hands dirty and for the harvest being brought in.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nature as Revelation - John Burroughs

John Burroughs wanted people to go outside and enjoy whatever nature existed around them, whether this was a forest, farmland, or a city neighborhood. He was concerned that people were staying indoors too much, and he wrote about this in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I think he’d be more concerned now when we drive everywhere. Our houses don’t have porches for sitting, our children don’t go outside to play, and new neighborhoods don’t have sidewalks.

We go into nature to be renewed by the fresh air, the openness, the quiet sounds.

We use the outdoors as a place to get much needed exercise—hiking, riding bikes, canoeing on the river, baseball, soccer, golf.

We consider the outdoors scientifically, measuring the developments of global warming and pollution, and work to minimize our impact on the ecosystem that sustains us.

We go into nature to be in a neutral place where we can think about our lives, a place away from the struggles at work and home.

We go into nature to be inspired by the beauty and wonder. Sometimes we see sparks flash off mountaintops during storms, tiny trout swimming in the river in spring, and a two-foot-tall owl sitting on a branch in the woods that doesn’t mind our presence.

We go into nature to touch the remnants of Creation, become aware of the presence of the natives’ Great Spirit, and to experience awe.

All of these reasons are good. There are more.

We can develop a relationship with nature, rising with the sun and going to bed when it sets. We can adjust our daily life to interact differently with each season. We can make nature a friend and share with it through the day.

We go into nature to encounter an entity that exists outside of us and outside our control. There is power in nature that we don’t control, a power that commands our respect, what moves us to awe and sometimes to fear. Nature reminds us that we live in its home, and we would do well to treat it with respect. The concept of Mother Nature comes from this. Nature will give us many of the things we need, but if we ignore its warnings, it will knock us down and paddle us good.

We also go into nature for revelation, to feel transcendence, to be transformed and reminded that we are part of something much greater.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Life is a Hankering

Life is a hunger, a hankering for what is just beyond my reach, a persistent drive to find Truth, Beauty, and Life. The Big Ticket items. It is a hidden quest of every person to find this place, these moments, to touch something eternal and forever, and then to linger in them for as long as they last.

When I went hunting with my grandfather, walking through the woods and hills of southern Wisconsin, often we did not raise our guns. Shooting something didn’t seem to be that important to us. We just walked in the beauty of dawn in autumn, listening to the dry corn shocks rasp against each other in the breeze, the scent of fall apples in the air, and feeling the cold bite of winter coming on. I think he liked to be outdoors because it renewed him, and I was happy to tag along. We seldom spoke, but his love for the outdoors was shared. I continue his journey, but I hike rather than hunt.

For some reason, I’ve always wanted to know the meaning behind events, people, and chance encounters. You may be like me in this, whether you’re an outdoors person, or someone who prefers to find transcendence through talking about life’s struggles with others. It’s not enough for us to simply exist and enjoy life. We want to know why.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Improving the View

I set up a second writing desk at home, this one with a view of the green woods. The woods aren’t visible from the desk where I typically write because the window is too high. You might think the change is an obvious decision and long overdue since looking at the woods inspires me, yet it’s taken me six years to make the adjustment. When we moved in, we put everything somewhere just to get the moving van unpacked. And that’s where everything stayed, with us arranging our lives around them.

How many other matters in my life have been organized in the same way, following patterns I set up quickly to simply to get me through today without considering what I’d prefer for the long run. Maybe I can also improve their views.